In Defense of Prohibition: PBS Documentary Puts the Noble Experiment Into Perspective


Everyone loves to romanticize Prohibition, particularly the era right before it and immediately following it. But it’s all too easy to forget why the Noble Experiment that lasted from 1920 through 1933, considered almost categorically a failure, came about.

An excellent documentary is currently airing on PBS, based on the book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent. The three-part series, made by filmmaker Ken Burns, reminds us that saloons were terrifying places, that men commonly drank to the point of passing out — literally — in the streets, and that women mobilized to lobby for Prohibition, empowering them to fight for equal rights. Now that you know this, you can snicker at Reefer Madness-type propaganda about liquor causing spontaneous combustion.

Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.